Dragon Tree: Branches Cut

Prompted by my recent visit from a termite inspector, I successfully cut a few small branches from my dragon trees. I took 3 branches from the larger tree and 1 branch from the smaller tree. These branches were growing towards my roof. This project was a preventive measure against a costly roof repair. I returned minutes ago from my home improvement store with an electric chain saw that I rented from them (Makita, 16 inch). The person at the store was very kind and gave me brief instructions and I was on my way. The time I spent actually cutting the branches was probably around 5 minutes. The overall integrity and structure of both trees have been preserved. The photos also show before and after the cuts.

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TIP: In the past, I would have called my tree guy to take care of something like this, but thinking about it, I wondered if I could just take care of it myself. Had I gone with the tree guy, it would have cost around $200-$250. With my first-ever effort with a chain saw, it cost the princely sum of $36.89.

It started to rain a bit by the clean-up, so I got a bit dirty and wet, which made it really fun. I’m wearing goggles and a pink hoodie and splattered with ground-up bits of tree branch. Now that’s a fantastic experience! Some folks shy away from the manual labor, but I love it. I came away from this experience with a new skill, which makes it very satisfying. It’s always great to pick up a useful and practical skill!

The branch cuttings: from previous experience, they can lay flat like that for several months and then planted into containers and root successfully. I will do that in the next weekend or even later. Dragon trees (and their cuttings) are quite resilient and strong, inspiring and always beautiful!

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Flowers Coming Soon: Amaryllis Hippeastrum

My red and white amaryllis plant (Minerva) is on the verge of flowering! It’s very exciting to watch!IMG_2929 It was just weeks ago that I was gifted this plant, when it was but a mere bulb. Memories!

Now, the stalk measures approximately 19-1/2 inches. Very rapid growth. The other amaryllis plant (Red Lion)  is showing mostly leaves at this point but will follow the path set by Minerva. Can’t wait!

The plants had been sitting atop a space on my bathroom vanity – not the most ideal place but suitable at the time. Other parts of my home are somewhat dark during most of the day, and the bathroom is the best place to get some sunlight. However, the plant was still desiring more sun than it was getting, as evidenced by the stalk leaning towards the sunlight by the end of the day.

To prevent a permanent distortion of the stalk, at the end of each day, I would turn the container so that by the end of the next day, the stalk would more or less straighten out. I did this for a few weeks.

TIP: Now, I have put my 3-step step-ladder in my bathtub and placed both plants on the non-steppable shelf, which has ample space and is almost all solid (a few holes for tools). They are now just inches from the window. This is a simple solution for growing amaryllis in need of more sunlight – and it required that I use something I already had in the house.

While I have to give up my use of the bathtub for now, I am happy to do so for such a worthy cause!

As the stalks get taller and the flowers emerge, I will be tying the mature stalks to sticks so the top-/flower-heavy plants do not topple over. I am very much looking forward to new flowers to gloriously ring in the new year!

Do-It-Yourself: Replacing a Sprinkler Head

I am as pleased as punch right now! One of the black plastic Rain Bird sprinkler heads of my automatic sprinkler system broke off at the level of the lawn and needed replacement. My initial thought was, “Gee, how much will it cost to hire someone to fix this?”

Then I thought, “How much is the part? Maybe I can do this myself.” I went to my neighborhood home improvement store up the street and found that the replacement part, a pop-up spray head, with tax, was $4.51.  But I was not sure of the process of removing the old head and putting in the new one.

Happily,  I found an online video of how to make this repair myself and it is a good one:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEJDGOtX5co

The young woman who later helped me at the store advised me to turn off the water supply before doing the repair – wise words to avoid an impromptu autumn shower! The tools I used for this project: (1) pointed shovel, (2) gardening hand trowel, (3) flathead screwdriver, and (4) a small plastic container to scoop out collecting water around the sprinkler head.

I had to carefully remove a small section of sod surrounding the sprinkler head first (this removed sod will be put back after the repair). The first photo shows the underside of this small section of sod. I used the shovel to do the removal of the sod. After that was done, I scooped out the soil with the hand trowel. The sprinkler/spray head was then easily unscrewed by hand. I then drove to the store to get the right part.

I briefly turned on the water to flush out debris in the part of the sprinkler head that was still in the ground, in preparation for installation of the new part. I turned off the water again, scooped out the collected water, and screwed in the new part. I turned on the water to see that it sprayed and in the right direction. Once I was satisfied with the result, I put back the soil that I had dug out and tamped down the piece of sod.

Looking at the above video, though, got me thinking, “If you can hull a strawberry, you can certainly dig around a sprinkler head!” It’s a transferable skill.  (FYI, to hull a strawberry: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g7D9vgO4lEc)

This was my first attempt with replacing a sprinkler head by myself and I am pleased with the results. It may take a bit more time to complete this project yourself, but it can be done. Don’t give up!

I encourage readers to view the repair video – it’s easy to follow – and the strawberry video, too, because it’s not all about work!

TIP:  From my experience, the removable cap and filter underneath can be reused for another sprinkler head. I found that out today.

One of my other sprinkler heads was not spraying water at all. I used the flathead screwdriver to manually raise up the pop-up spray head.

I removed the cap and filter (white removable piece under the black cap) of this sprinkler head and replaced them with the removable cap and filter of the broken one that I replaced today, since those parts looked to be in good condition – problem solved through the use of existing resources.

At the home improvement store, I saw that a kit with just the cap and filter cost about $2.

Planting Cauliflower and Eggplant Seeds Today!

I have the day off today, a perfect opportunity to get a handle on my autumn-winter vegetable garden!  I already have my cauliflower seeds at home – Snowball X.

I went to the local nursery today to pick up a few packets of eggplant seeds, in two varieties: Black Beauty (the one I currently have, VERY prolific) and Long Purple.

I very much enjoyed steamed cauliflower. And don’t get me started on the Black Beauty eggplants! My one 5-gallon container currently has one plant and there are at least 12 eggplants in various stages of maturity. They’re very delicious.

Because of the rather mild winters here, I will be planting the cauliflower and eggplant seeds directly into 5-gallon (or larger) containers. The potting soil is ready to go.

I went to Whole Foods right after my visit to the nursery. Awhile ago, I remembered that they sold vegetable seeds. Apparently, at least in this one store, they now only carry a very restricted selection of seeds, such as wheat grass, I think. The kind clerk who assisted me and I shared a laugh at the limited selection and he said, “Yeah, I know, you’re looking for real food!” Indeed!

I absolutely love homegrown vegetables, not only because of the cost-effectiveness, but because I know that I do not add any pesticides. Only water, sunshine, and lots of tender loving care.

TIP: Be careful when you remove an eggplant – for sure, the Black Beauty variety has very sharp THORNS on the stem and calyx – based on personal experience!

Hose-End Sprayer

Finally, a weekend without rain! Over the past few months, I’ve not been able to fully tackle a dreaded garden maintenance chore: killing weeds in my backyard.

My backyard is largely bare soil, with several plants in some sections. But the large bare areas – well, those are the playground for weeds, lots of them.

I had a few weekdays off recently and I used them as an opportunity to remove the above-ground weed growth, using, of all things, a lopper. It required a bit of deep squatting (!) to position the lopper at the base of each weed and lopping off the vegetation, but it proved to be a good strategy for the first part of the weed-clearing project. The roots underneath the removed vegetation still needed treatment.

Part of my afternoon today was devoted to just that: spraying the weed-affected areas with weed-killer. I used Roundup Super Concentrate (the one with the purple cap).

TIP: Using a Roundup sprayer (I kept an empty bottle) works well for me when I have a few spot-treatments for my front yard, but I’d be outside much of the day spraying my backyard if I had to do that for my backyard. Just the image of squeezing out probably hundreds (thousands?) of sprays was not appealing!

So, this morning, I went out and purchased a hose-end sprayer to significantly reduce the time for completing this chore.

HOW TO: I poured undiluted Roundup Super Concentrate into the sprayer jar, following the directions of how much liquid concentrate to use (in this case, 2-1/2 ounces per gallon of water).  I set the red dial to 2-1/2 ounces and attached my water hose to the sprayer, turned on the water, and sprayed to my heart’s content, just as if I were watering a lawn.

The amount of liquid that sprayed out was very good, significantly more than if I had used a container with a hand-pump device (which I used years ago).

I kept an eye out on the amount left in the sprayer jar and reloaded it once and completed my spray project with minimal effort.  I cleaned out the sprayer jar according to the directions on the label. I’ll monitor the effect of the spraying over the next several days. This product has been very effective in keeping weeds under control in my garden.

NOTE: Be sure that the dial is clearly locked on one of the “rate values” (e.g., 2-1/2 oz) inscribed on the dial, not somewhere between two inscribed rate values since I discovered early on that this stops the liquid concentrate from being suctioned out (i.e., only plain water comes out when the dial is not clearly locked on one of the inscribed rate values).

To be sure that the sprayer is operating properly, do a test spray on some weeds and look at the vegetation to be sure that the spray is foamy, a sign that water and weed killer are both coming out.

UPDATE: Here are detailed manufacturer’s instructions on how to use this product: http://www.scotts.com/smg/catalog/productTemplate.jsp?proId=prod70348&itemId=cat50096&tabs=usage

Rose Garden: Winter Maintenance

Tomorrow, I’ll be removing dead plant materials from my rose garden, as well as removing weeds. This may sound like a lot of work, but over time, it’s very routine and manageable. I completed the heavier work of hard pruning last month and new leaves, and even a few flowers, have emerged, thanks in part to some unexpected sunny days.

It’ll also be time for me to feed my roses. In the past, I purchased special, dry flower food and fed my roses according to the box’s instructions. However, in the past year, I experimented with using Miracle-Gro LiquaFeed and the results in my garden have been comparable, and for less cost. An added benefit is that I use this product for all of my plants. My roses plants remain robust, as do the many companion plants in my backyard garden, using this all-purpose plant food feeding regimen.

For my garden, based on results, I find it more difficult to justify searching for and paying more for pricier, specialty plant foods. In my case, an all-purpose plant food is all that I need.

TIP: Consider using, on a trial basis, an all-purpose plant food for your garden, instead of a specialty plant food. If the results from this trial are slightly smaller flowers or slightly fewer flowers, compared to when they were fed specialty food, but the plant is healthy and reliably flowers year after year, in my opinion, the cost savings is well worth using the cheaper, all-purpose product.

Weeding, with Less Effort

Weeds, the bane of many gardeners’ existence (including mine). Yet I take pleasure in time-saving garden maintenance activities. Last week, we had several days of rain. The soil remained moist for several days after, making the soil quite loose, an ideal situation to easily remove weeds with my bare hands. I’ll be doing more of the same this coming weekend, as we just had a light rain earlier in the week. Weeds pop up and try to establish themselves every chance they get, so in the long run, it’s a time saver to remove weeds when they first appear.

TIP: Don’t wait too long to take advantage of the loose soil after a rain. Once the soil dries out,  weed roots really grip to it, making hand weeding, and weeding with tools, much more strenuous. Weed killer may be the more practical option in that situation.

Also, after rain subsides, take advantage of the moist soil in another way: it’s an excellent time to plant new things in the garden! Digging holes in dry, hard soil is no fun, based on personal experience. But with moist soil, much less effort is needed. I’ll likely go to the home improvement store this weekend to pick up a rose plant, just in time before spring starts!

Red Cestrum: Flower Bracht in Bloom!

The waxy flower brachts of my red cestrum (also known as Cestrum fasciculatum Newellii) have finally reemerged. img_1491This is the first of the beautiful, deep raspberry-magenta brachts to bloom.  This photo I took a few minutes ago.  We have had a few days of rain here and the wind was gently blowing. It was remarkably still for just the right moment for me to capture this show-stopper!

TIP and CONSUMER ALERT: be sure to wear sturdy disposable gloves when removing or touching ANY part of this plant with your hands, since all parts are said to be highly POISONOUS if ingested. You do NOTwant to take any chances with your health. I washed my hands with soap and hot water twice, after handling this plant. More information on toxic plants can be found here:

http://www.calpoison.org/hcp/KNOW%20YOUR%20PLANTS-plant%20list%20for%20CPCS%2009B.pdf

Water Conservation on Rainy Days

It’s the start of several rainy days, beginning tonight.  I always watch the weather reports for rain, because that will signal me to turn off my front yard sprinkler system until the rain has subsided. My back yard does not have a sprinkler system – I still water by hand. My patio is also in the back of the house. Over the years I’ve noticed that my patio always floods when it rains.

TIP: To prevent flooding into my home,  I purchased 4 large plastic trash cans, about the size of the garbage, green waste, and recyclables cans provided by my city. I place 2 open cans in front of my patio door, and the rain water collects perfectly. I could probably install rain gutters, but I think this is a low-cost alternative. I check the cans periodically for any cracks or other damage to ensure good water-storing capacity. I place lids on the cans until all of the water is used up – this way, I reduce the probability of mosquito infestation and West Nile virus.

I use the water for my backyard garden and it lasts for at least a few waterings. The other 2 trash cans are backups in case the first 2 are filled up. In that case, and I’ve done this a few times at night (!), I get a small pail and scoop out the water from the full cans and into the empty cans. On a few occasions, I’ve had 4 nearly-full cans of rain water. Now that’s water (and dollar) savings. Wow!

Please don’t think about trying to lift or wheel a large, water-filled plastic trash can from one location to another. Not only is it heavy, and you may end up injuring yourself, but you could also place unnecessary stress on the can, and may end up damaging it and losing some, if not all, of the rain water as a consequence.

Japanese Aucuba: Roots from Cutting!

On September 27, I placed a cutting of my Japanese aucuba into a small bottle, in an attempt to propagate it (see my previous post). It’s been about 1-1/2 months later img_1375and I am happy to report that this cutting is very clearly rooting! Click on the photo for a better view of the very impressive roots!

To be honest, as weeks came and went, without sign of roots, I started to lose hope and thought, “Well, at least it’s colorful. I’ll toss it when it eventually deteriorates.” So, I eventually stopped checking its progress on a regular basis, but it never seemed to deteriorate. Today, during my “free” weekend time, it provided a stunning reveal. Wow! In fact, it likely rooted much earlier…I was just too bleary-eyed and distracted after work to do a weekend check!

Tip: Don’t give up on a cutting if it doesn’t immediately show roots. Give it sufficient time and water. A few months is NOT too long! Imagine how many successfully propagated plants you’ll have if you provide just these 2 things!

How To: How did I propagate this? I used garden shears, cut off a small piece of the adult plant (which has since filled in with new leaves!) and placed this cutting into the small bottle pictured above, and added water. As shown in the photo, the piece was not large – notice the petite size of my Martinelli’s apple juice bottle to give you an idea of how big the cutting is (not very!).

I’ve only added water today, since it evaporated so slowly in the past 1-1/2 months – I’ve not added any nutrients or anything else to it, just water. It’s been apparently happy sitting on my kitchen counter, in filtered light. This really is a success story of plant propagation.

I’ll have to take a few more cuttings, as I plan to grow a few more of these in my front yard. When the roots of all of the cuttings are sufficiently strong, I will transfer them into containers filled with potting soil and place them outside, in the shade. Should they “take” to the soil, I’ll tend to them until they are sufficiently mature and transplant them directly into the soil. This strategy may take longer, but it’s more fun and that’s an important element of gardening!

CONSUMER ALERT: Japanese aucuba has been reported to be poisonous, though the level of toxicity has been reported to be minor.

More information on toxic plants can be found here:

http://www.calpoison.org/hcp/KNOW%20YOUR%20PLANTS-plant%20list%20for%20CPCS%2009B.pdf

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